Pokémon Diamond/Pearl - Staff Review  

Wireless Inchworm
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

55-65 hours


Rating definitions 

   During the more than decade-long history of Pokémon, the series has tended to make improvements by increments. Each new entry changes just enough from the predecessor's formula to do something new, or to balance the game a bit better. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is just such an improvement. The game features a variety of both expected and unexpected changes, such as new creatures with new elemental Type combinations, and bigger, fully three-dimensional areas to explore. Most, if not all of these changes are for the better, though none of them are particularly major. Perhaps the biggest change to the game formula is the inclusion of WiFi support, which allows players to do everything from trade and battle to speak directly to opponents before, during, and after a battle. The ability to trade and battle with players all over the world does have the possibility of defeating the balance of the game, but thankfully there are safeguards against a player getting and using some of the most powerful creatures too early. In the end, though, Pokémon is a series that reliably plays to its fanbase. Gamers who have disliked the game mechanics and visual design of past installments of the series will likely not find anything to change their minds, while fans of the series will find a lot to love about the new creatures, game mechanics, and story.

   As with all Pokémon games, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl puts players into the role of an up-and-coming Pokémon trainer. Players will have to fight their way through eight Gyms, each stocked with a particular type of Pokémon to fight, in order to acquire the Gym Badges and challenge the Elite Four. There's a new criminal syndicate for players to battle, and another new legendary Pokémon threatening the safety of the Sinnoh region. All in all, there's not a whole lot players haven't seen before, right down to the impatient Rival who gets everywhere ahead of the player. The story does do a bit better than previous titles in the series have at giving their characters depth and effectiveness; for example, the Galactic Gang, Diamond and Pearl's answer to Team Rocket, differs from previous gangs in that they have an actual goal in mind, rather than just being evil for evil's sake. The story is a slight improvement on the very simple fare normally seen in a Pokémon game, with a few bones thrown in the direction of Pokémon world history and mythology, but the story is still very simple, and the characters are too flat to have much of a serious impact.

The Pokétch has everything from a calculator and a pedometer to an Itemfinder. The Pokétch has everything from a calculator and a pedometer to an Itemfinder.

   Pokémon Diamond/Pearl uses roughly the same combat system as earlier games in the series; one-on-one or, on occasion, two-on-two turn-based battles with a decidedly old-school RPG slant. A system of elemental resistances and weaknesses, along with 150 initially available creatures to use, round out the basic mechanics, but there's a bit of a difference this time. In previous Pokémon games, the elemental type of moves determined whether they ran off of the Attack or Special Attack stat. Types like Water, Fire, and Grass used Special Attack, while physical types like Rock, Ground, and Flying used the Attack stat. Diamond and Pearl classifies each move separately, meaning there are physical-typed Water attacks and special-typed Rock attacks. This makes certain Pokémon whose stat distribution didn't match their Type - a Water type, for instance, with a high Attack stat - infinitely more useful, and ultimately broadens the number of Pokémon that are useful in combat.

   The game also does a couple new things with two-on-two battles, with the player being joined by an AI controlled ally for a number of the dungeons. AI overall has seen a bit of an upgrade, with allies being smart enough to be helpful in battle, while enemies are bright enough to switch Pokémon mid-battle on occasion. This, along with the addition of Friend Code assisted WiFi battles and, after the Elite Four have fallen, the ability to download the ghost data of other trainers for battles in a special arena, makes for a surprising level of competitive depth, even for a Pokémon game. Again, like most of the series, there isn't anything that overturns the basic foundation of the series or that would change the minds of those who already dislike it, but it does represent an important balancing of the combat system.

   But perhaps the biggest changes in the series comes in the visual design and sound. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl represents a significant improvement in the overall quality of the series visuals. Bigger sprites with a broader range of animation, along with fully three-dimensional areas to explore and more complicated move animations, makes this the most visually appealing of the handheld Pokémon games. Of course, the game still uses more or less the same visual style the series has always had, with bright colors, simple shapes, and fairly basic design, but it also retains the unique strangeness the series has always had. After all, the new creatures introduced in Diamond and Pearl include a bonsai turtle, a monkey ninja, and a penguin that looks like the result of a battleship construction project.

WiFi trading opens up a lot of possibilities for players without local trading partners WiFi trading opens up a lot of possibilities for players without local trading partners.

   The music of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is a more drastic change for the series. No longer limited by the GBA sound system, the game has a decidedly less plunky tune on the DS. The music is largely a pop-ish sort of collection of upbeat songs and inoffensive melodies, but there are a few songs late in the game that show some real creativity, such as the Champion's theme, and the Stark Mountain theme. But the biggest difference by far is in the cries of the Pokémon themselves. While Nintendo has kept the mechanical, screeching cries of the early Pokémon, the new creatures have melodic, at times almost lifelike voices. The improvement in quality is very nice, but it stands out very starkly against the early Pokémon cries, making them seem even more outdated.

   Making use of both traditional controls and the DS touch screen, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl has a reasonably solid interface. In combat, the player can use either the touch screen or the D Pad and buttons to command Pokémon, but menus are set up so that touch screen controls are a bit simpler to use. Combat as a whole moves a little slower than it did in the series' GBA incarnations, but it isn't a serious issue. During normal movement on the field, the player moves around on the top screen, while the touch screen is used for a Pokétch, or Pokémon Watch, with a variety of features. The Pokétch combines a number of tools and features that, in previous games, would have been handled by individual items, or in some cases, NPCs set in specific towns. A very welcome answer to what was becoming a problem for the Pokémon games, the Pokétch helps to minimize the sheer number of esoteric items the player carries around. Inventory and the various menus use the touch screen and more traditional controls in tandem, resulting in an effective, if sometimes click-intensive interface.

   It tends to be the nature of Pokémon games to make slight changes over time, rather than sudden geological shifts. While Pokémon Diamond/Pearl makes some changes to the series formula, none of the changes are terribly drastic, the improvements this game makes to the series overall being much more subtle than previous shifts have been. Still, the plot is mostly retread material, and the changes to the combat system don't really constitute a major shift to the game's basic mechanics, regardless of what it will do to Pokémon's competitive metagame. Overall, there just isn't much in this game that hasn't been seen before.

   With higher enemy levels and better AI, the challenge level of Pokémon Diamond/Pearl is slightly higher than it has been in previous Pokémon games. It's still far from difficult, but there are a few sections that may require leveling or a shift in tactics. And given the larger areas and deeper plotline, it's a considerably longer game, topping out at around sixty hours, not including the wide variety of postgame activities.

   It's become something of a mantra when talking about the Pokémon series, "If you don't like Pokémon, this won't change your mind," and Pokémon Diamond/Pearl follows down much the same path. With a variety of new creatures, larger areas to explore, and the added bonus of competitive WiFi play and worldwide trading, Pokémon Diamond/Pearl should appeal very strongly to the series fanbase. However, with it's bright visual style and a predictable plot, the game certainly won't change the general perception of the series, nor the minds of those who already dislike it. In the end, the changes Pokémon Diamond/Pearl makes are welcome, helpful, and useful, and a solid step forward for the series, but gamers who have already made up their mind one way or the other about Pokémon probably won't find much of a reason to change it here.

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